Benefits for all or just the needy? Manchin's Demand Focuses Debate

The Democrats are contemplating reducing a $3.5 trillion Social Safety Net bill to maybe $2 trillion. A proposal to limit programs for the poor has reignited a debate about the meaning of government.

Democrats are debating how many families should be eligible for child care subsidies, among other issues. Credit... Kirsten Lucie for The New York Times

Published Oct. 8, 2021 Updated Oct. 17, 2021

WASHINGTON -- Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia has a ready retort to fellow Democrats who say shrinking the party's social safety net bill will mean depriving vulnerable populations of critical resources: Limit access to every program in the ambitious measure to only those Americans who need it most.

However, Mr. Manchin's plan is not appealing to Democrats such as Representative Mikie Sherrill. A former Navy helicopter pilot, she was a mother of four and voted narrowly in favor of Donald J. Trump in 2016. After 34 years of Republican representation, her district in New Jersey was overwhelmingly upper-middle-class. In 2018, she was elected to the House.